What to watch for from Beckett today
April, 13, 2012
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington acknowledged Friday morning that pitcher Josh Beckett's velocity is not what it was in previous seasons, but said it was not a concern as the 31-year-old right-hander gears up to start today’s home opener.
A scout told ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Edes that Beckett had topped out at just 92 miles per hour in his first start of the season last Saturday in Detroit, a game in which he got touched for seven runs in 4 2/3 innings and his fastball averaged 90.5 mph. Since 2009, that’s the slowest fastball he’s thrown in a game, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Only 1 of 16 swings at his fastball missed.
"I’m not that concerned about it for two reasons," Cherington explained to Boston sports radio station WEEI when asked about the velocity drop. "First, it’s early in the season and Josh is still building arm strength like a lot of guys are. In his case his spring training, as everyone knows, was a little bit interrupted. We did some of his work in the side and in minor league games because he has a little bit of that thumb soreness he was getting over. He feels good now so that’s not an issue, but it did interrupt his spring training a little bit. The pedal is to the floor for him moving forward.
It’ll be interesting to look at the radar gun on Beckett today. In his second start of last season, he topped out at just over 94 mph in a gem against the Yankees.
“I think we’ll see a tick higher velocity from Josh as we get into this year, but he’s really become a more complete pitcher,” Cherington said. "He’s become a pitcher, not just a guy with power stuff that overpowers guys.”
It will also be notable to see if Beckett can improve his pitch location today. A scout told ESPNBoston.com that Beckett was way off on his location last Saturday.
“He must have thrown 15 center cuts -- you can't do that,'' the scout said, referring to pitches that ended up over the middle of the plate.
A third thing to look for with Beckett today is pitch selection. In Saturday's start, according to brooksbaseball.net's PitchFX tool, Beckett threw only five four-seam fastballs. He threw 14 curveballs, 13 changeups, 18 cutters and 9 two-seamers.
Three different scouts wondered why Beckett relied so heavily on his cutter. "What's wrong with fastball, curve?'' said one scout, recalling the days when Beckett was a power pitcher who relied on a 95-97 mph fastball and a terrific 12-to-6 curveball. Beckett’s curveball on Saturday had its slowest horizontal velocity across the plate over the past three seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Opponents started 2011 at 0-for-22 on at-bats ending in the curve. On Saturday, Austin Jackson drilled a 2-2 curve for a double.
Beckett had a side session in Toronto with pitching coach Bob McClure, where they presumably figured out why he left so many cutters over the middle of the plate.
“Bob worked with him," manager Bobby Valentine said earlier in the week. "I think they got a lot of things ironed out and they felt really good about where he should be. … I'm looking forward to him pitching again."
Valentine stood with Cherington in predicting a bounceback from Beckett, who led the Red Sox last season with a 2.89 ERA, the lowest of his career.
“I think Josh Beckett is right there with Jon Lester as being world class,” Valentine said Thursday in an interview with ESPN New York Radio. "He does have the pitches. In this 2012 world of major league baseball you have to have the pitches and you have to have the location. I think (Friday) Josh will have that location and will show people he’s world class.”
And what about that thumb? The one that sent Beckett across the country to two specialists just before the season, the one the pitcher insists is not bothering him? The Red Sox insist it’s not a concern, but you can bet it will come up again if Beckett gets hit hard by the Rays today (2 p.m. start).
For Beckett, this will be the fifth time he's started the Red Sox home opener. He is 3-0 with a 2.81 ERA in home-opening starts for Boston in 2006-07 and 2009-10.